10 Best Things to See and Do in Greenland
Sure, Greenland's mostly ice, but more and more tourists are discovering that it's also an Arctic wonderland of backcountry snowmobiling, heli-skiing, stunning vistas and more amazing sights and experiences.
Photo By: Stacy William Head/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Mads Pihi/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: David Trood/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Rebecca Gustafsson/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Paul Zizka Photography/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Niko Brinkmann/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: David Trood/Visit Greenland/(http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Camilla Hylleberg/ Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Jessie Brinkman Evans/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Photo By: Intrepid Travel
Photo By: Aningaaq R Carlsen/Visit Greenland/http://vg.gl/accr
Kayak to Incredible Icebergs
Want an island vacation, but tired of the same old sand? Try Greenland, the largest island on Earth. Technically part of Denmark, most of it is in the Arctic Circle and about 4/5 of the country is covered in ice. In the summer, you can hike, climb mountains and explore different cultures. In the winter: ski, ice fish, dog sled or look for the northern lights. In 2018, the number of Americans flying to Greenland rose 30% over the previous year; the country draws visitors who crave adventure, wilderness trails, wildlife and other experiences on our "10 Best" list.
Snowmobile in the Backcountry
Snowmobiles are to Greenland as cars are to the U.S. They’re used almost daily for everything from getting to work to riding for fun, crossing frozen lakes and glaciers, hunting and exploring the backcountry. Rent a snowmobile or ride a multi-passenger snowmobile shuttle in Sisimiut, Greenland’s second-largest town. Snowmobile tours and rentals are available from Sisimiut Snescooter, Uummannaq Seasafaris and local operators in other areas.
Hike to Norse Ruins
Before Columbus sailed, Norsemen settled in South Greenland. Christianity eventually followed and now the remains of Hvalsey Church, built around 1300, are arguably the best-preserved church ruins in the country. Sheep still graze in its surrounding grassy fields and nearby Qaquortoq, the largest town in South Greenland, is home to more Norse history. It's also a great place to kayak, hike and tap into a lively youth scene. Look for the Stone and Man sculptures around the city, some carved right out of the rock around them.
Explore Art and Culture
Discover some 300 paintings, prints, drawings and watercolors and 400 carvings made from bone, wood, soapstone and ivory at the Nuuk Art Museum; the collections date to the beginning of the 20th century. The museum has an art walk you can follow around the city, too; look for works inspired by local myths and legends. Nuuk is also home to the Greenland National Museum and Archives, a showcase for 4,500 years of the country's history, starting with Arctic Stone Age cultures.
See the Northern Lights
You can't see the ever-present northern lights or aurora borealis, during Greenland's summer months. The midnight sun, a naturally-occurring phenomenon, brightens the skies enough that they're not visible. For the best chance of spotting these shimmering, colorful lights, plan your trip from October to March (bring warm clothes, since that's when temperatures are typically well below freezing). If you don't mind skipping the lights, the best months to visit Greenland are June, July and August.
Spend Time in Tasiilaq
Tasiilaq, the largest town in Eastern Greenland, is a great place to kayak, hike, whale watch or tour Sermilik, an ice fjord. While you're in town, shop for traditional arts and crafts, such as Greenlandic tupilaks. These figurines, often carved from wood, bones, stones or reindeer antlers, were traditionally believed to protect their owners from enemies, and they’ve become popular souvenirs. If you buy any, be sure the material they’re made from can be legally exported.
Soak in a Hot Spring
Several areas in Greenland have geothermal springs, but only the pool on Uunartoq, an island off the southern coast, is comfortable to bathe in year-round, at 100.4 degrees F. Think of it as an outdoor spa in the middle of a grassy field, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and icebergs. Catch a tour boat to the springs, where you can change into your bathing gear in a simple shed. The springs, said to offer health benefits, were originally used by Norse settlers a thousand years ago.
Watch Humpback Whales
Book a whale safari with a tour operator or hike along the coast to spot some of the fifteen whale species that live in or pass through Greenland’s waters. Prime time for whale watching is in the summer, when humpbacks, minkes and fin whales are often seen. If you’re lucky, you may spot a blue whale, the largest animal ever known to have lived on Earth, migrating through. Share your whale pictures with the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources to help researchers learn more about these incredible creatures.
Sightsee and Shop in Oqaatsut
Oqaatsut is a small settlement in North Greenland with 40 or so inhabitants who primarily fish for halibut and sharks. Visit to experience the Inuit culture or get your own permit to fish for catfish, redfish and cod on Disko Bay. Take a boat to Ilulissat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see the a fjord and buy souvenirs like ulus, which are Alaskan knives, and clothing made from muskox wool and sealskins. Back in Oqaatsut, there’s one restaurant: Restaurant H8 serves shrimp, salmon, roe and other local favorites. Sit by the window to watch boats unload the day’s catch.
Discover Ilulissat and Nuuk
Intrepid Travel offers several Greenland trips. Their Greenland Expedition begins in Ilulissat and ends in Nuuk, the country’s capital, where visitors can snap photos of colorful houses along the waterfront, shop and dine in fine restaurants. The trip includes a kaffemik, a casual get-together in a local family's home to chat over sweets and coffee. A whale-watching trip, a boat tour to the tiny hunting village of Kapisillit and other optional activities are available.
BOOK IT: Intrepid Travel, $4,845
Ride With a Musher
Like snowmobiling, dog sledding is part of life in Greenland. The Inuits used dog sleds for transportation and hunting some 5,000 years ago; today, they’re popular with tourists who’re impressed by the canines' thick winter coats and amazing energy. You’ll find sledding in Greenland’s east coast towns and north of the Arctic Circle on the west coast. Plan your dog sled adventure between February and April with Greenland Tours, or try traditional Inuit dog sledding with Pirhuk Greenland Mountain Guides. In this image, a pup goes for his first dog sled expedition.